battling elves and building civilizations

Why do we follow others? Because we trust them for their knowledge, advice, support, vision, etc.

“We follow others for various reasons, some because of their knowledge, some because of their vision, some because of their inspiration, and all for the confidence we place in them. No trust, no follower-ship. Without confidence from others, a person can not effectively lead. No follower-ship, no leadership.” —Valdis Krebs 2014-12-11

As this pandemic becomes endemic, many organizations are returning to the office. But the past 18 months have showed most of us that we don’t have to work in an office to be effective. As remote, distributed work takes hold across many industries, what kind of leaders will be trusted?

In a long thread on Twitter, Simon Wardley describes where these new leaders — those who can organize distributed teams — will come from.

“When you look at next generation behaviour then being influenced by something other than the executive circle is an encouraging sign, however the structure of the next generation is firmly towards remote work …i.e. the office is the last bastion of a centralised mentality and our communication mechanisms have changed to the point that such a mentality is no longer fit for the modern age … still … .. it won’t go quietly.

It’ll take a long time. There are issues of power and status wrapped up in the ideas of the office / HQ which will create inertia to change and there are niches where it will be required. The isolation economy (caused by COVID) accelerated it … but there are many that will want to recreate the past. From an organisational perspective it is better to adapt but most organisations don’t run on what is best for the organisation, they run on what is best for the executive.

Did I mention inertia from power and status? Expect a lot of executives to try and push staff back into the office. I’m saying that power, status and self interest are powerful forces …

Recommendations? Find women in your organisation who’ve been building guilds (i.e. World of Warcraft / EVE online) and fast track them to executive positions. Representation and diversity are far more important than many imagine in this new world. You need to quickly move towards a more inclusive environment and that means overturning past privilege. This is an opportunity. Take it.

Find the areas that are most advanced and established in those practices and bring them to your space. I didn’t pick WoW / EVE online at random. That is where the practices are most established. Look at groups on discord etc. To be blunt, your future leaders aren’t to be found studying MBAs … they are currently creating highly motivated and remote collectives to battle elves or aliens or build civilisations. These are the best executive training grounds that I know of.” —@SWardley 2021-07-02

A lot of pandemic remote work was a replication of the office and resulted in extended hours of back-to-back video conference calls. It was not optimized for distributed work but was a reaction by the status quo. What is emerging from that experience in the form of ‘hybrid work’ is often the worst of both worlds. But real leaders for a networked world will emerge from those who are trusted to run distributed teams.

media tetrad on electric society

The image above reflects an analysis of emerging work trends I did using Marshall McLuhan’s media tetrad in 2019 — status update on society. I used it to examine the effects of technology — the global digital nervous system. Of particular interest is the Retrieve quadrant. Digital technologies that make up our collective nervous system are retrieving a new way of organizing for work — artisans and guilds. No single person can make sense of all the emerging global complexities alone. We need to work, and learn, together. Humans evolved to live and cooperate in small groups. Reconnecting is how we can make sense together.

These connected guild leaders help their networks make better decisions. Solving problems is what most knowledge workers are hired to do. But complex problems usually cannot be solved alone. They require the sharing of implicit knowledge, which cannot easily be put into a manual. This knowledge flows best in trusted networks.

Trust promotes individual autonomy and this becomes a foundation for social learning. Without trust, few are willing to share their knowledge. An effective knowledge network also cultivates the diversity and autonomy of each worker. Connected leaders foster deeper connections, developed through ongoing and meaningful conversations. They understand the importance of implicit knowledge in solving complex problems.

Emerging connected leaders will be those who help others to work and learn together, or as Simon Wardley says, to motivate people to — battle elves or aliens or build civilisations.”

“In this way, the process of becoming an effective World of Warcraft guild master amounts to a total-immersion course in leadership. A guild is a collection of players who come together to share knowledge, resources, and manpower. To run a large one, a guild master must be adept at many skills: attracting, evaluating, and recruiting new members; creating apprenticeship programs; orchestrating group strategy; and adjudicating disputes. ” —John Seely Brown, Wired 2006-04-01

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